Forty-five years ago, Steve Vermillion was sitting at the mess hall in Vietnam eating his lunch with his fellow helicopter pilots when the routine siren went off for a rescue mission. Thankfully, the siren signaled it was the other pilot duo’s turn to head to a rescue mission. Not even 15 minutes later, Vermillion learned his two colleagues had been killed in a crash.
“It’s always on your mind,” he said. “When you lose them, you remember them. It sticks with you forever.”
Carrying his Vietnam War experiences with him to this day, the Puyallup City Councilman has started his latest project for soldiers who never came home from the war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is making progress towards connecting names with faces of those killed during the war. As part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a Virtual Wall of Faces has been formed, and features a page for every person whose name is on the memorial in Washington D.C. The pages allow for family and friends to share their memories and photos of loved ones.
Vermillion is part of the Faces Never Forgotten, which feeds the Virtual Wall of Faces, a grassroots campaign to help gather photos of those from their communities whose names are on the wall. Once the Education Center for the memorial wall is completed in D.C., all photos and stories collected will be featured in the Education Center and on the Virtual Wall of Faces website.
Vermillion first heard about the project when the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to Puyallup. On Puyallup’s own memorial, the Kneeling Soldier monument, 12 names are listed from the Vietnam War, and on the virtual website, all but one of the names are accounted for. He hopes the project will bring to light what those who served accomplished before they were killed.
“When you see someone’s headstone, you see the first four digits of when they were born,” he said. “Then you see the second four digits of when they died and the dash in between. What we don’t know is what’s in the dash.”
According to Vermillion, Robert W. Hangerman is one of those with no additional information on the Virtual Wall of Faces.
“It will take more research to find out why, but it could be his date of birth of 1931 and (his) birth place not in Puyallup,” Vermillion wrote in an email. “He was MIA for awhile so there may not be much information.”
Those with basic information Vermillion identified as Robert Alm, Mark Charette, Lance Cleveland, Robert Peterson and Steven Smith.
“I really encourage anyone and everyone to help get the word out,” said George DeCastro, Faces Never Forgotten’s program coordinator.
Both DeCastro and Vermillion are encouraging old classmates, siblings and other family members to search for old family photos and additional information about those who were killed during the Vietnam War.
Vermillion is also hoping to find out if any of those still listed as missing in action were former residents of Puyallup. He hopes that by reaching out to the community, more will join in the effort to honor those killed during the war, and perhaps more names will surface for those who didn’t come home from the war.
“We are still just scratching the surface,” he said. “It’s hard to tell what will come fourth.”
Vermillion says the project is helping to restore the emotional connection for loved ones. One of those is Jan Everett, who lost her brother, Tim Workman, who was originally from Puyallup, during the war.
“I am grateful to you for your care and concern keeping these men ‘alive’ in our minds and hearts and sharing their stories with generations to come,” she wrote in an email to Vermillion earlier this week. “... My brother was an amazing person. Not a day goes by still I don’t think of him.”
For more information on those killed in the Vietnam War from Puyallup, visit www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/search/results/HOME_RECRD/PUYALLUP.
To help Vermillion with more information or photos, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.